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Making the Sign of the Cross is common among the various Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches. Albeit some cross themselves left to right (like the Roman Catholics) while others go right to left (like the Eastern Orthodox). Some Protestants (like Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans) also use the Sign, but it is much more closely associated with the older Christian faiths and is used more regularly among their followers.
Whether you have a Bishop or Priest bless you with the Sign of the Cross or you cross yourself, the act is what the Church calls a "sacramental." This means that it is a symbolic action that serves as a means of receiving sanctifying grace. In simple, everyday terms it is a reminder of all you have professed to believe--I've seen it referred to as a "mini Nicene Creed"--that can be used as both a blessing and a prayer.
For Catholics and some others, it is used throughout the worship service and the Mass. Most Catholics will cross themselves with Holy Water upon entering the Church and again, while genuflecting, before taking a seat in recognition of the physical presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Celebrant will use the Sign of the Cross to bless the congregation several times throughout the Mass, especially at the end of prayers. The congregants will mirror this action by crossing themselves. They will also make a smaller Sign of the Cross over their foreheads, lips and hearts before the reading of the Gospel and will cross themselves after receiving the Host. After the Mass, most will genuflect and cross themselves before leaving their seat and one final time with Holy Water before exiting the Church.
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Of course, you don't have to be in Church to use the Sign of the Cross. Catholics are encouraged to use it to dedicate their actions to God, as a blessing on people and objects (like meals!), and as a protection against evil (since the Devil hates the Cross). So you can use it in your own prayers and at the beginning of any activity whether that's starting a new project at work, cooking dinner or playing a game of tennis. As one person posted on Catholic Answers Forum: "Good gravy, when is it NOT appropriate?!?"
In my daily life, I also use it as I pray for others. I have established "reminder" cues to encourage myself to pray for the well-being of others. So, I cross myself to invoke the protection and blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when I pass a hospital or hospice where people are suffering; when I hear a siren indicating that people are in danger; when I see someone stopped by the police so that each side of that interaction may be safe; when I see a young parent walking with children that they may have all of the necessities of life; and when I see a disabled vehicle or an accident so that those impacted will be safe and will have the ability to bear the financial burden of the incident.
My Cradle-Catholic husband crosses himself at similar moments and he also uses the Sign of the Cross when passing any Catholic Church. Just as many Catholics cross themselves upon entering the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, many like my husband pause to recognize that they know the Sacrament is nearby. He will also cross himself near cemeteries to pray for the dead, especially his own parents, and to solicit their intercession on behalf of those still here.
The sacramentals and symbols of the Catholic Church are a great part of the Church's attraction for me. By using the Sign of the Cross, I am not only going one step further than just thinking good thoughts for others, I am also providing a visible sign to those who may see me. Whether in a restaurant, in my car, or on the street, the Sign of the Cross can be a powerful reminder to others that we all should draw closer to God.
For more about this topic, I recommend:
Making The Sign of the Cross (Orthodox)
How to Cross Yourself (Ken Collins)
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1235 The sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to him and signifies the grace of the redemption Christ won for us by his cross.
1671 Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father "with every spiritual blessing."177 This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ.
2157 The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior's grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.